Owing little to the main stem US jazz tradition, composer Michael Gibbs' orchestral suite Europeana
has more in common with the work of folk-influenced English composers like Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and Malcolm Arnold, and their particular varieties of English lyricism.
It's a work of magnificence and beauty which was barely noticed on original release eleven years ago and seems since to have been almost entirely forgotten. This audio enhanced reissue provides a welcome opportunity to celebrate it anew.
Despite co-funding from German radio, the recording represented a major investment for the independent ACT label in the days before it struck international gold with the Esbjorn Svensson Trio. The project involved commissioning Gibbs to suggest a group of European folk songs, and then arrange them for the Radio Philharmonia Hannover symphony orchestra, augmented by a jazz trio (pianist Joachim Kuhn, bassist Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark and drummer Jon Christensen), plus a diverse group of guest soloists (including trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, tenor horn player Django Bates and accordionist Richard Galliano). Gibbs also conducted the orchestra.
If you have an aversion to folksiness, stop worrying. While some folk-based projects may indeed adopt a tone best suited to the kindergarten, Gibbs' perspective on Europeana is by contrast big, majestic, adult and mysterious.
The suite includes thirteen traditional tunes: Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, French, Finnish, German, Swedish and Spanish. There's nothing from the English tradition, but it's Gibbs' cultural backgroundand in particular his very English scoring of the Philharmonia's strings and woodwinds, which is a joy in itselfwhich defines the album. Kuhn gets star billing on the packaging of this reissue, but he is essentially "just" another of the soloists. His astringent, going on dissonant style is, however, a valuable bit of grit in the machine.
Although it was regarded by most commentators as a quaint curiosity back in US-centric 1995, hindsight reveals Europeana as an important stepping stone in the evolution of contemporary European folk-jazznot as influential as the work of Jan Garbarek or John Surman perhaps, but every bit as distinctive and enduring. The album may not have made the year-end best-of lists first time around, but it surely deserves to do so now as a reissue.
Personnel: Joachim Kuhn: piano; Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark: bass; Jon Christensen: drums. Orchestra
Radio Philharmonia Hannover NDR. Soloists: Theo Wiemes: French horn (1); Douglas Byrd:
oboe (2); Django Bates: tenor horn (2); Richard Galliano: accordion (3); Christof Lauer:
soprano saxophone (5), tenor saxophone (7); Markus Stockhausen: fluegel horn (6),
piccolo trumpet (8); Martin Stoll: oboe (6); Albert Mangelsdorff: trombone (7); Klaus
Doldinger: soprano saxophone (9); Volker Worlizsch: violin (12). Michael Gibbs: